In the Hebrew language of the Hebrew Scriptures commonly called the Old Testament, there is a wonderful word, ruach, which can be translated as breath, spirit, or wind. In Genesis 1:1, God's Spirit moves over the face of the watery chaos and brings forth life. In Ezekiel 37, God's Spirit is breathed into the valley of dry bones, and there is life. In the New Testament, the Greek word is pneuma.
Jesus says to Nicodemus, "the wind blows where it chooses" (John 3:8). In John 20, after the Resurrection, Jesus comes to the disciples and breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. . .." And in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, there is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit dwells within us, as close to us as our next breath. To live is to breathe. One of the psalmists says, to breathe is to praise God. It is an imperative. Christians and Jewish people believe that we are created for the praise of God.
To breathe in is to receive the grace of God. To breathe out is to offer praise to God with our words and with our lives. We inhale, and we exhale. There is a natural rhythm. In the same way that music has beats and measures, our lives are measured. There is evening and morning, each day measured. There are six days of work and one day of rest, each week measured. Well in a way in today’s world this seems more of a hope than a fact. God has ordered our lives in such a way that we give and receive, work and rest, inhale and exhale. This is God's intention.
However, our human temptation is to live outside God's will for us. We do not live measured lives. We do not live ordered lives. We sometimes live hurried and chaotic lives. Yet this is not God's purpose for us. We were created to receive grace and to offer praise. But at times we forget to praise.
Many of us, even the most sophisticated among us, can become enslaved to destructive patterns of living. Years ago, I read about the experience of a group of world-class climbers who had died on Mount Everest. An interesting comment was made by one of the expert guides in that field. "Most of the people who die climbing Mount Everest," he said, "make it to the top. They die on the way down. They discover, after they have made it, that they do not have enough oxygen to get down the mountain. Or they make bad decisions, critical errors, because of the lack of oxygen." This is a parable of us.
The spiritual life is our oxygen. We may get everything we want in this life and die in the process. Lack of spiritual insight may lead us to choose things that are not really important in place of what is nearest and life-giving to us. What is God's order and design for you? This question is one sadly not thought about often even amongst Christians and other Religions. In worship that is shaped by the Scriptures we begin to understand that praise is an essential experience for God's people. We forget to give thanks for our lives sustained by our very breath. The rhythm that fires who we are and what we are as individuals.
This has a number of practical implications for us. In worship we discover an order and a design for our lives that we ignore at our peril. If our lives are cluttered or overwhelmed, we need to reorient ourselves toward God, who grants each day to us as a gift. Have you ever tried looking at each day as a gift? It’s amazing how that changes one’s perspective in the mornings. I find my grumpiness depleted and a certain joy about facing the day to come.
Also, God wants us to have times of rest, time for renewal, a time of catching our breath. What has happened to that thought. It seems to have disappeared as we have become caught up in bolting food as we rush out the door to catch the train or bus or get into our cars for the slow crawl to work in what is becoming massive car parks that slowly crawl along as our stress levels rise.
In the wholeness of creation there is the rest of God. We were created to praise God. When our hearts and minds and spirits are oriented toward God, we are not so critical of others, not so weighed down by everyday life. I wonder if we are able to stop and pray and imagine that God is speaking to us, each one of us, his beloved. Our God wants us to know that praise is as necessary to us as our next breath and when we worship our God, it is a foretaste of heaven. Add this thought: our God created us to receive and to give.
If you will breathe in and breathe out, you will discover the shape of your life. God did not create us for burnout or the pace of our lives. Our God wants to shape us, mould us, fill you, use us, breathe life into us. Our God is delighted when we accept the gift of grace and respond with the gift of praise.